Marty Jorgensen likes to fish for walleye, hunt for elk and deer, and give a pheasant a good chase every once in a while. He doesn’t just dabble in the great outdoors; he is the great outdoors.
The 61-year-old Havre, Montana, native who grew up on a ranch said he cannot do any of those things if the land he cherishes is scarred by seeping pollution coming from pipelines or the water is corroded by leaks coming from underground; he explained the plants and critters the game ingests would be too contaminated to risk eating the animals he hunts to put food on his table.
“As a pipeline contractor, we built this work with pride, with safety and quality,” he said. “It’s a different world than it was 50 years ago, and we take that into account. We know how to protect the environment and make the landowners pleased with the way we leave the land and their property.”
It is an attitude that underscores his stridency about the precautions put in place by the company and the industry he has been working in for over 30 years. In short, what happens here means more to him than to any bureaucrat or activist living 1,800 miles from his home in Montana.
Jorgensen also said he likes his job as the president of Barnard Pipeline in Bozeman, Montana.
“I have the oversight of our job selection, our estimating, our job execution, overseeing quality, production,” he said. “I’m heavily involved in the daily works.”
He began his career as an operator. Spend more than five minutes with him, and it’s clear he is exactly the kind of guy who would work his way up in any job he did. He is just that way.
“We do major pipelines like Keystone XL, and then we also do a lot of integrity work and pipe replacement and work in the streets in congested areas,” he said. “We are noted for being able to complete on budget, on time, some of the most difficult projects in the steepest and toughest terrain, whether that’s in the mountains or in the city streets.”
The Keystone XL pipeline was a major part of Barnard’s portfolio this year. That is, until President Joe Biden crossed the line from being someone who professed on the campaign trail and in the debates to be a man who would heal this country with commonsense solutions to the handmaiden of the climate justice activists.
Jorgensen said the cancellation of the XL pipeline project was devastating to his industry.
“It’s a loss of over 700 jobs for employees and subcontractors to us,” he said. “Basically, a thousand jobs per spread if you include TC Energy jobs. This is a major setback for our company this year.”
Jorgensen added that beyond the 700 jobs directly affected, there are thousands of other jobs at risk.
“All the jobs and opportunities in the communities along the pipeline route,” he explained. “All of those towns and private entities and motel owners and parts shops and whatever, tire shops, gas stations, were all going to have received a huge economic gain from this project. I mean, it’s devastating through the whole corridor from the beginning to the end.”
It is estimated that the state of Montana alone will lose approximately $58 million in annual tax revenue.
So, what does that mean to the people of the state and for six county governments, five of which are designated high-poverty areas? It means they will lose their single biggest property-tax payer.
When you lose your tax base, that means money for schools and public services dries up, any economic development evaporates, and the areas start to look like the Rust Belt did in the 1980s when manufacturing moved to Mexico and, eventually, China.
That happened because of lopsided trade deals. This is happening by our own government.
The impact is the same: People are forced to move, generations of families are broken up, communities start to fall in despair, and the people left behind struggle with falling in despair themselves.
“The sad part of it is it’s compromising our energy independence as a country,” Jorgensen said. “The pipeline meets Biden’s ‘Build Back a Better America’ plan. I think the big thing that frustrates a lot of us that are close to this industry is (that) stopping this pipeline is not stopping the oil that we need coming into the United States.”
“Keystone XL was going to make a safer transportation device,” he said. “It’s the safest and environmentally safe way to transport oil. And it is still coming. The oil is still coming.”
Only now it is coming by train and trucks. “And every one of those railroad tracks goes by our pristine rivers and wetlands and everything that we’ve tried to avoid going near when building this,” he said of the pipeline route.
“Currently, the U.S. imports over 1 1/2 billion barrels of heavy oil a year,” he said. “Even during the pandemic, it was 2 to 3 million barrels a day of heavy oil. It’s coming from foreign sources, and why not get the oil that we need from a friendly partner Canadian company?”
For a moment, he just stopped talking.
“It blows my mind,” he said. “I think people believed that by stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s stopping bringing in heavy crude from the Canadian tar sand fields. And they are so mistaken.”
Jorgensen said his company is in a tailspin after losing this project.
“I truly believe that the Biden administration made their decision off of the 2015 plan, or even earlier,” he said. “I don’t think they understand what TC Energy has done to make this pipeline meet Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan environmentally. The decision-makers need to hear both sides before they make such rash decisions and take the politics out of it.”
Jorgensen said that if he and the president had some time to chat one-on-one here in the state, the first thing he would do is take him to eastern Montana to have him talk to the local people there.
“I think he needs to look these people in the face and explain why he would just, with the stroke of a pen, can all the economic benefits and environmental benefits that this pipeline brings,” he said.
Salena Zito is a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.
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